Category Archives: Elder Law

Elder Law. Advanced directives. Power of attorney. Living will. Health care power of attorney. HIPPA. DNR. Long Term Care Insurance. Medicaid. Medicaid Penalty Period. Medallion Signature. Social Security Payee Representative.

The “Aid in Dying” movement – is it a good idea?

According to an article that appeared a few days ago in the New York Times,  there is a new movement in the United States called “Aid in Dying”.  It’s supporters try to avoid calling it what it really is – assisted suicide – but, whatever they call it, it’s gaining traction.   

Until 2008, assisted suicide was legal in just one state: Oregon.  Today, it’s legal in five states: Montana, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and New Mexico.  Supporters of the right for a terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying are supporting “death with dignity” bills in Connecticut and other states. 

Lawsuits in New Mexico and Montana related to this topic have resulted in a differentiation between aid in dying, which is now legal, and assisted suicide, which is still considered a crime in both of those states. 

Church groups have weighed in on the topic and claim that aid in dying is morally wrong.  However, more and more people are asking for the right to die on their own terms according to Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices.  

In May 2013, a Gallup Poll was conducted.  It asked whether doctors should be allowed to “end the patient’s life by some painless means” when patients and their families want it.  70% said yes.  However, when asked whether doctors should be allowed to help a dying patient “commit suicide”, only 51% said they should.  It’s clear that the exact wording is critically important in assessing how people really feel about the issue and on what is actually legal. 

What do you think?  Should aid in dying be made legal in your state?

To learn more about other topics related to death, go to www.diesmart.com.

What is the most important part of estate planning?

When you do your estate planning, you probably think the most important part of this planning is your Living Will or your Last Will and Testament.  They are very important but they are not the most important thing.

I recently read an article by Julie Garber on about.com and she said the most important part is to select the right person to do each of the jobs your estate plan will require.”  After thinking about it, I agree.

When selecting a person to be your healthcare agent or guardian for your minor children or personal representative, be sure that this is a person who has your best interests at heart.  Also, verify that this person has the time as well as the skills to perform the needed tasks.  And, finally, select someone who you think can make wise decisions.

If you have name someone who declines to accept this position, and the backup person you’ve named also declines, a judge will make all of the decisions for you and your family or will find someone who is willing to do so; this person may not be someone you would have chosen and may not do things the way you would have wanted them done.

Think about it carefully and choose wisely.

For more information about estate planning, go to www.diesmart.com.

Bad mistake made by heiress Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark was an heiress who died in 2011 at age 104.  She left behind a $300 million estate.  The bulk of the money was inherited from her father, a copper tycoon in Montana.   She owned a 23-acre estate near Santa Barbara valued at $100 million, a $24 million house in Connecticut and a $100 million coop on Fifth Ave. in New York.  She was a painter and a collector of rare French and Japanese dolls.  She had no children, no close relatives and only limited contact with any of her distant relations.

She spent the last 20 years of her life living at Beth Israel Medical Center as a recluse, closer to her doctors and nurses than any family.

When she died, the only people who attended her burial were funeral home employees.

What did she do wrong?  She left behind two wills, written just six weeks apart.

The first one left  $5 million to her nurses and the balance of the estate to her distant relatives, even though 14 of the 19 involved said that they had never even met Huguette.

The second will left nothing to the relatives.  It specifically said” I intentionally make no provision…for  any members of my family…having had minimal contact with them over the years.”  Instead, charities are the largest beneficiaries, receiving over 80% of the estate.  Also named was her registered nurse, Hadassah Peri, who would receive $15.3 million after taxes, and a goddaughter who would get $7.9 million.  Lesser beneficiaries included Beth Israel Medical Center, her attorney, her personal assistant, her accountant, property managers and one of her doctors.

In addition to what she was given in the will, her registered nurse received more than $31 million in gifts before Clark died and the estate administrator is asking that the $31 million be returned to the estate.

Family members are claiming that the second will was written under duress when she was mentally ill and incompetent and the victim of fraud by her nurse, attorney and accountant.

Negotiations have been going on for a few years, with 60 attorneys involved in the case.  However, the chance of a settlement is not certain and a jury trial is scheduled to begin in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan on September 17th.

Huguette Clark should have had better legal counsel when she decided what to do with her sizeable estate.  She should have prepared a trust, including directions on who had the right to make decisions on her behalf when she was unable to do so.  And she probably should have destroyed the first will.

It will be interesting to see what the probate court decides if a settled hasn’t been reached prior to September 17th.

For more information about Hugette Clark and her reclusive life, look for a book being released on September 10th titled “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.”

To learn more about how to plan for the end of your life, go to www.diesmart.com.

DNR order – should your pet have one?

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Do you know what a DNR (do not resuscitate) order is?  It is a medical document that alerts doctors and other medical and rescue personnel about whether you want them to do anything they can to revive you if your heart stops.

I have been in the local hospital a few times for various medical procedures and am used to the questions that the staff asks before admitting you.  And I have a DNR (do not resuscitate) document that I  keep on file there.  If my heart stops and reviving me will negatively impact my quality of life, I want my loved ones to let me go.

Information for and against human DNRs is readily available on the web and in books; anyone you ask will have an opinion.

However, for pets it’s a different story.  Last week I had to take my dog, Suzi, to the veterinary hospital for a minor medical procedure and was given several forms to sign.  One of them caught me totally off guard.  I was asked to sign either a DNR or an “administer CPR” form for her.    I had never thought about a DNR in relation to my dog and didn’t know what to do.  I had no idea about how easily a dog’s heart stops beating during surgery and how quickly it’s quality of life will be impacted after that stoppage.

The vet told me that asking for a pet DNR is becoming common practice for many animal hospitals but would give me no recommendation on which form to sign.

When I got home, I got on the web and tried to research a pet DNR to see what the recommended practice is.  I could find very little helpful information.  I called friends with pets and they had no idea what to do either.

Luckily, the procedure went smoothly and Suzi was fine.  But what if there is a next time?  What should I do then?

We at Die Smart would love to hear from you with your opinions on this subject.  To write a comment or to find out more about end of life planning, including human DNRs, go to www.diesmart.com.

Vermont passes doctor-assisted suicide law

Yesterday, the Vermont House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that will legalize doctor-assisted suicide.  The State Senate had approved the measure previously.  All that remains is for Governor Peter Shumlin to sign the bill and the Patient Choices at the End of Life Act will become the law.

The bill is patterned after the Oregon model, which has several built-in safeguards.  These include a requirement that the patient state three times – once in writing – that they want to die.  Another safeguard is the requirement of a concurring opinion from a second doctor that a patient has less than six months to live and is of sound mind.

Critics of the bill feel that there is potential for abuse of senior citizens, while those in support of it believe that it makes a positive statement about the value of personal freedom.

If the governor signs the bill, Vermont will become only the fourth state in the US to permit doctors to help patients to die by writing a prescription for a lethal dose of medication.  The other three states – all in the west – where this is legal are Oregon, Washington state and Montana.

For information about end of life issues and planning, go to www.diesmart.com.